The Roberto De Zerbi era is well and truly under way after Albion claimed their first win under the Italian in sensational style at the Amex.
In a febrile Amex atmosphere Leandro Trossard scored his seventh goal of the season in the fifth minute to give Albion the perfect start against a Chelsea side who were unbeaten since Graham Potter swapped Sussex for SW6 in September.
Their relentless first-half pressure forced own goals by Trevoh Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek while Thiago Silva twice headed Trossard efforts off the line in a frenzied opening 45.
But Chelsea had their moments too and Rob Sanchez had a strong claim for man of the match. He made crucial saves just after Albion had gone 2-0 in front and again in the second half, after Kai Havertz had pulled one back. There were some nervy moments but also opportunities on the break for Albion and in stoppage time Pascal Gross put the icing on the cake when he thumped in number four.
The final whistle was greeted with roar that would have been heard in Rustington and it was the ebullient De Zerbi who led the celebrations after a quick handshake with his opposite number, before he was serenaded by the Albion fans.
The absence of Joel Veltman and Danny Welbeck meant two changes for Albion. Kaoru Mitoma came in for his first Premier League start and a return for Pervis Estupinan. Gross lined up as right-back in a 4-2-3-1 with Trossard operating as a false 9.
Albion can rarely have made a better start to a Premier League game. The atmosphere was superb, the fans in full voice and Trossard’s fifth-minute opener could easily have been a hat-trick goal.
That it wasn’t was down to two bits of brilliant defending by Chelsea skipper Thiago Silva. In the third minute he spectacularly headed Trossard’s cute lob off the line after Moises Caicedo won the ball back to set up the opportunity.
From the corner Pervis Estupinan’s left-foot volley from 20 yards beat keeper Kepa but Silva flicked it off the line with his head. Chelsea thought they had survived but Silva gave the ball to Mitoma who intelligently squared the ball to the unmarked Trossard. He rounded keeper Kepa and fired past two defenders on the line for his seventh goal of the season. De Zerbi’s delight was evident as he ran a couple of yards onto the pitch in frenzied celebration.
It got better in the 13th minute. Solly March’s from the right was flicked on by Gross and Ruben Loftus-Cheek diverted the ball into the roof of the net off his knee.
Chelsea hit back and Rob Sanchez made an outstanding save when he parried Conor Gallagher’s shot with Christian Pulisic firing the loose ball wastefully wide of the post.
Albion responded and Kepa held Trossard’s well-struck effort at the second attempt before Sanchez leapt to his left to paw the ball away after Gallagher flicked on Raheem Sterling’s cross. Kai Havertz then worked a bit of space but Sanchez beat his shot away.
It was rip-roaring stuff. Clever play by Solly March and Trossard, Caicedo burst towards the six-yard box and lashed a shot into the side netting before Adam Webster got the deftest of headers onto Alexis Mac Allister’s corner and glanced it just wide.
But Albion had their third in the 42nd minute. Caicedo’s pass sent Estupinan racing into space down the left and Trevoh Chalobah, under pressure from Mitoma, diverted the cross past Kepa to make it 3-0. It was the signal for hundreds of Chelsea fans to leave the stadium. There was still tine before the break for Adam Lallana to head Estupinan’s cross wide.
Chelsea dampened the celebratory mood within three minutes of the restart when Havertz rose unmarked to meet Gallagher’s cross from the left-hand corner of the box and head powerfully past Sanchez to make it 3-1.
The force was with the visitors and Sanchez made an instinctive save when Mason Mount’s cross deflected off Gross as Albion unsurprisingly struggled to match the intensity of their first-half performance. It was turning into an afternoon of deflections and Dunk managed to divert Loftus-Cheek’s shot wide for a corner which Mitoma eventually booted to safety amidst a crowd scene in the box.
Albion made their first change on 63 minutes when Julio Enciso replaced Lallana to make his Premier League debut and Sanchez continued to produce a goalkeeping masterclass, diving full length to his left to push away Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s well-struck shot from 15 yards.
Mitoma made way for Tariq Lamptey in the 73rd minute and departed to a standing ovation and substitute keeper Eouard Mendy’s hands were warmed by Enciso’s 25-yarder before Enciso galloped into clear space but his shot was deflected wide when the better option was to find the unmarked Trossard.
Albion settled into a 4-4-1-1 in the closing stages with Gross just behind Trossard, who came off to another standing ovation with four minutes to go. Havertz had blasted a good chance over the bar and Albion’s fans knew then that probably the best three points of the season were theirs.
And just to make sure they grabbed a fourth in stoppage time. Enciso’s shot was only parried by Mendy and Gross swept the rebound home in front of a delirious North Stand.
What a day!
Albion: Sanchez, Gross, Webster, Dunk, Estupinan, Caicedo, Mac Allister, March, Lallana (Enciso 65), Mitoma (Lamptey 72), Trossard (Sarmiento 86).
Unused subs: Steele, Undav, Gilmour, Turns, Furlong, Moran.